Why Twitter is Upset That Lewis Tan Wasn’t Picked to Play ‘Iron Fist’

The actor, who appeared as a villain in episode 8 of the Netflix/Marvel series, talks about “missed opportunity”

Lewis Tan

The discussion of Asian representation in film and television has been reignited this week following the less-than-well received premiere of Marvel’s “Iron Fist” and the news that Marvel almost went in a different direction, casting-wise.

After a months-long search, “Game of Thrones” vet Finn Jones landed the role of Danny Rand/the Immortal Iron Fist on Marvel’s Netflix series, which premiered last week. But prior to the announcement that Jones would play the lead — and concurrent with the controversy that Tilda Swinton had been cast as the Ancient One, originally an Asian character, in “Doctor Strange” — a very public effort was made to convince Marvel to cast an Asian instead of a white actor (since the character is white in the original comics).

That didn’t end up happening as Marvel chose to cast according to the source material. So, it was after critical and audience reaction to “Iron Fist” was, to say the least, very mixed, the issue of casting returned to the fore. In reviews, many critics noted in particular a moment early on, when white man Danny Rand lectures Asian American martial arts phenom Colleen Wing (played by Jessica Henwick) about martial arts, as emblematic of the show’s deeper problems.

As it turns out, Marvel did consider casting an Asian actor in the lead role, and one who came pretty close to getting it was action and stunt actor Lewis Tan, whose stunt credits include “The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,” among others. Tan auditioned for the role of Iron Fist/Danny Rand, but was ultimately cast as a very well-received one-off villain (Marvel baddie Zhou Cheng) for the show’s eighth episode. In fact, Tan’s brief appearance has been singled out as one of the show’s real highlights.

Tan sat down with Vulture this week to talk about the show, his experiences as a half white, half Chinese actor (he is from England), and offer frank thoughts about what might have been. The quote that has everyone talking comes later in the interview, when Tan was asked about the push, prior to the announcement of Finn Jones, to cast an Asian actor as Danny Rand.

“It is a missed opportunity. That’s exactly how I feel about it, word for word,” Tan said. “It would’ve been a brave thing to do, for sure, for Marvel. I can see how that was difficult to make that decision. I think, personally, it would’ve paid off. But I think it’ll come next because people are feeling underrepresented. People are like, “Yo, this was a perfect opportunity to represent us.” They chose not to, and it’s not even their fault.”

Tan continued:

“I see why they stuck to the source material because it’s very risky to move away from that, but they’ll move away from it in other areas and in other shows where they’ll take an Asian character and make him white. So you can’t really win with that argument. Because we’ve seen many times when they’ve taken Asian characters and made him white.”

Suffice to say, in the hours since the interview, that quote alone has Twitter users of all backgrounds aflame with jokes and outright disappointment that the role might have gone to one of the show’s standouts. Read on for a sampling.







Of course, not everyone considers it a particularly bad outcome, though not for the reasons Marvel might have hoped.